Kristin Hissong, Graduate Student
I held out my hands & asked where I could help & somebody grabbed me & pointed me towards the future & said, You've got your work cut out for you & I said, isn't there anything easier? & he laughed & said you could dig around in the past, but it's just busywork & that made perfect sense so I shrugged & started right where I was, along with everyone else.- Story People
Manipulation of historical narrative to not only change but also determine facts on the ground is the reality today in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. Comprised of approximately 50,000 Palestinian Israelis and located just beneath the old city walls and al-Aqsa mosque, a private, non-profit, settler organization is attempting to use tourism to infiltrate the neighborhood. Although there are only 200 Jewish Israelis currently in Silwan, Elad is using the archaeological tourist site City of David in the attempt to establish a 95% Jewish majority by 2012. The use of archaeological tourism as an instrument of Jewish settlement in Silwan is not only damaging to local residents properties and way of life but also creates a paradigm which is hard to argue by the Israeli government: the site’s importance to the Jewish historical narrative and its hundreds of thousands of guests is a strong façade that is taking East Jerusalem out of the Palestinian Israelis hands.
The Ir David foundation, known by its acronym Elad, has effective means of communicating their goals to Israeli society and the 400,000 tourists per year. It is easy to blindly accept their message with a beautifully crafted website, guided tours, and 3-D movie dialogue that portrays King David as having walked the streets of Silwan just yesterday. Perhaps their story is not incorrect, but it is simply incomplete. By ignoring layers of cultural heritage that are perceived to be non-Jewish, archeology and tourism alike are being manipulated to fulfill Elad’s political agenda of the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem. Their message is skillfully crafted; for instance, the Ir David Foundation “is committed to continuing King David’s legacy and strengthening Israel’s current and historic connection to Jerusalem through four key initiatives: archaeological excavation, tourism development, residential revitalization and educational programming.” But what exactly is meant residential revitalization and educational programming? This translates in to the recruitment of Jewish settlers and brainwashing dialogue for Birthright trips. "Welcome to the place where it all began... This is your land. Welcome home." It is ridiculous and manipulative to suggest that those foreign tourists who have been in Jerusalem for a week have more claim to the land than those Palestinians who have owned property there for generations. After all, as a non-Israeli Jew, how can you help the state of Israel grow and progress? To criticize one's homeland is not an act of betrayal, but rather a faithful duty. If this is your land, then welcome home, but we need to help fix it.
This past summer I worked with Emek Shaveh, a new non-profit association of archaeologists, local residents and human rights activists, working to change the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that archaeology can be used as a bridge between peoples and cultures and that it has the power to influence the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that benefits the future of all the peoples in this region. As George Orwell stated, “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.” It is in this way that Elad is manipulating the past to take ownership of the present that affords them control in the future of Silwan.
Struggling against the facts on the ground, Emek Shaveh’s work is founded on the conviction that a site like the “City of David” has the potential to yield a very different, positive dynamic between the people in conflict that could change the face of present day reality. The site’s sensitive location has implications for the future of Jerusalem and the region as a whole. If ever a two state solution is to be negotiated with East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, Elad’s tourism and settlements are making that impossible. We believe it can be turned into a place for the public to learn about the many different cultural heritages that thrived in ancient and medieval Jerusalem and that this knowledge can be used as a way to connect with and appreciate the cultures of the peoples living there today.
This work has been what has consumed the majority of my time in Jerusalem these past three months. It has come with interesting timing with U.S. pressure to freeze settlements in the West Bank. This says nothing of the settlements of East Jerusalem and certainly not about the use of tourism to veil the settlement agenda. In this way, tourism as land grabbing makes it nearly impossible to deconstruct the site. One of the most visited Jewish sites in Jerusalem, Elad carries weight with the Jerusalem municipality for what it brings to the city. More powerful than planting Jewish settlers is constructing selective narrative that excludes the majority of the lands population. By stripping the population of its connection to the land and taking private ownership over shared heritage, they become easier to uproot.
Specifically, I am working to establish a communication network to allow City of David visitors to know that there is more to see and hear upon their visit to Silwan. A part of communicating this complementary message is offering alternative tours of the City of David site by professional Israeli archaeologists that comprise Emek Shaveh. Like nearly all things in Israel/Palestine, it seems that the more you know the more complex your reality will become. Currently there are 88 standing home demolition orders in the Bustan valley at the foot of Silwan to accommodate the expansion of the tourist park to include King David’s Garden. Not only will this tear the cultural heritage from the center of the Palestinian residents’ hearts but also tear down their homes to accommodate foreign visitors in the fulfillment of the Jewish past only furthering the selective narrative that has no room for the 50,000 current residents on the land itself.
As a result of my powerful experiences this summer I am more enthusiastic than ever to continue in this field as my academic, personal, and professional passion. Currently I am working on my MA thesis, which will examine ethnic discrimination within Jewish Israeli society and the role of victimization in the allocation of social and political rights. I will be returning to Jerusalem after completing my MA degree to continue work with Emek Shaveh and to go further with my Hebrew study.